June 28, 2001

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if it were against the law to call your mother on the phone? Well my mom may already think that's so considering the frequency with which I use Ma Bell to call Ma Feeney. But the state of New York is considering outlawing some phone calls, particularly those made by hand-held cellular phones in the hands of an automobile driver.

New York is not the first state to consider such legislation, but it may be the trend setter if law makers move forward as planned with the proposed law that would make it illegal for anyone driving a car to be holding a phone. The law does make room for the newer "hands-free" cell phones that are mounted in a car and utilize a speaker phone system freeing the drivers hands for the wheel.

The new law passed the state's equivalent of the house of representatives by a vote of more than 100 in favor and 20 some opposed. It was previously passed by the state's senate and now awaits the governor's signature. The rule creates a warning period until December when violators will face a fine of up to $100.

Now this issue has received a lot of attention since super model Niki Taylor was seriously injured in a car crash that was blamed on a driver who was not paying attention to the road because he was reaching for his cell phone.

Okay, I must say that there is some logic behind this issue. Sure I think it is somewhat dangerous to being talking on a cell phone while driving. But I guess where I see the danger is having a person's attention half on driving and half on the phone call. So in my mind the "hands-free phone is little better than the cell phone. Don't get me wrong, I own a cell phone and I use it (occasionally even while I'm driving down the road) but it is mostly for emergencies. It seems like the safe thing to do is pull over if you need to use the phone. Of course for people like my sister-in-law, that means she would be a couple hours late to wherever she was driving, but at least she would get there safe.

I guess my argument is, that cell phones are just the tip of the iceberg as far as driver distractions. Just sit on one of the nice Antique Fair benches on the square some day and watch a few dozen cars go by and you'll see plenty of driver distractions. My number one diversion has to be my kid. Naturally when they scream or start crying it's a knee-jerk (actually neck jerk) reaction to turn and look to see what's the matter.

Other common things you see drivers do includes:

Changing the radio station or tape or CD; picking something up off the floor board (looks like no one is driving the car as they duck out of site momentarily); fixing hair or make up in the rear-view mirror; or my personal favorite, eating (I know someone who used to eat a bowl of cereal every morning while driving to class).

So I guess my point is, if New York is going to make it illegal to use a cell phone while driving maybe they should expand that law to also ban eating cereal, putting on make-up, reading and even changing the radio station while driving. Maybe they should make drivers wear blinders or even put an ignition system in that would disengage the drive of the machine if both hands are not on the wheel (similar to the kill switch on lawnmowers that disengages the mower blade if the driver's weight comes off the seat).

I'm not saying it's a bad idea to try to make our roads safer, I just don't know that this is a logical law considering that it seems to only address one obvious problem among a whole host of related troubles. If New York thought the cell phone companies could lobby hard, wait until they try to outlaw the fast food drive-thru.

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